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The Inductive Argument

Updated on December 1, 2010

Inductive Argument

My Good friend Mark Notturno was the editor of two books by Karl Popper. He is the only person alive that I know, who knew and worked with the great scientific philosopher. Mark studied Philosophy and Logic at Columbia and he’s been a great source of information to me about the mind of Karl Popper and logic in general. He also knew William Warren Bartley; Poppers protégé, and the man who took Critical Rationalism and expanded it into what he called Pan-Critical Rationalism reaching into the world of everyday human interaction.

He wrote this:

“Deduc­tive argu­ments force us to choose between the truth of their con­clusions and the falsity of one or more of their premises. Inductive arguments do not. This, in and of itself, does not show that anything is true or false. But if an argument is deduc­tively valid, then we simply cannot, without con­tradicting ourselves, deny its conclusion unless we also deny (one or more of) its premises. In this way, deductive arguments enable us to exercise critical control over our scientific debates.” ( great. Can we apply that in our everyday lives?)

“Far from enabling us to exercise critical control, inductive arguments deprive us of it. Since their premises do not entail their con­clusions, the falsity of their con­clusions gives us no reason even to question, let alone to deny, the truth of their premises.”

“Consider the situation. We assume the premises that we do because they seem to be obviously true. But their truth may suddenly seem doubtful if they are shown to entail state­ments that seem more obviously false. If a statement is a deductive con­sequence of premises, then it cannot be false without (one or more of) those premises being false.

But this is not true of inductive argu­ments. And this is why they are useless for criticism.”(The criticism aimed at the president for example by the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and others, are all based on inductive arguments. They actually think that through an inductive argument, they are making a valid case against Obama. There are many things that we can criticize a president for, or any politician for that matter, but the criticism should at least be coming from sound logic. The fact is that if you want to make a case for something, you can draw from an unlimited number of sources to attempt to illustrate what you want your audience to believe. It doesn’t however, prove your case.)

“The premises of an induc­tive argument seem obviously true—otherwise they wouldn’t be assumed as premises. And the conclusion of an inductive argument is not entailed by them—otherwise it wouldn’t be inductive. The argument itself says that its conclusion is true because its premises are true—or, at the very least, that you should believe that its con­clusion is true because you believe that its premises are true. But the conclusion of an inductive argument does not follow from its premises. “

“So there is no reason at all for our con­fidence in the truth of those premises to change if we should think that the con­clusion that is ‘derived’ from them is false.

“It is not just that the falsity of the conclusion of an induc­tive argument does not force us to deny (one or more of) its premises. It is that the falsity of the conclusion gives us no reason to even question the truth of its premises. We believed those premises to be true before the ‘conclusion’ that we think is false was ‘derived’ from them. And there is nothing in the logical relationship between that con­clusion and those premises to prevent the premises from being true and the conclusion false. So why should we now question whether the premises are true?”

“If this is true, then the problem with induc­tive arguments is not that they never justify their con­clusions. It is that they never give us reason to question their premises. Since their con­clusions do not follow from their premises, they never place us in a position in which we have to choose between accepting their conclusions and denying their premises.”

“The point of criticism is to force someone to ques­tion his assumptions, and because an argument can force someone to question his assumptions only if it is deductively valid—and even then only if he recog­niz­es its validity, and only if he is looking for truth. “

And therein lies the problem. The un-willingness to look for truth. How many people are willing to question their own assumptions? We all have preconceptions of how things work. They’ve been drilled into us from an early age. They came from authority figures that we never questioned. Our parents. Our teachers. Our ministers. This is the source of what gives us the feeling of solid ground. We don’t question it out of fear of the possibility that we’ve been living a lie. So we adopt faith as our final refuge in clinging to our theories of rationality. When attempting to justify our theories of rationality we dig our heels in and to avoid infinite regress in trying to justify something without any basis, we fall into circular reasoning and ultimately, irrationality.

So..what is the weapon to use when arguing with such a person who’s theory of rationality won’t permit any honest attempt at seeking truth? It’s as simple as changing the way we think and how we approach problem solving. We can see how a dogmatic approach results in irrationalism. The goal here should never be to uphold a belief system but rather to find truth. Principles and values are great things, but the question one has to ask oneself is what do you do when your principles or values conflict with the truth? I’m sure most of us feel that our principles are based in truth. But we can’t demonstrate that as true, so let’s examine a problem. What happens when your principles conflict with the truth? The case of my friend Tom and his son and the politician is a clear example of this. We have to decide what is most important to us: the Truth, or our principles? They aren’t necessarily the same thing, so which do you place a higher value on?

A poster on a forum said this:

”Obama is not a realist, I assure you.”

Why would I consider your assurance to be significant, or you to be an authority on that subject?

Without giving me a reason to believe she has any authority on the subject, she goes on.

"I am not talking about religion, I am talking about whether a person believes in a power greater than themselves, greater than man. I am not making a value judgment on something I cannot prove since I am simply expressing my belief about Obama based on Obama’s words and actions”

She said as she made a value judgment on her belief regarding somebody else’s grasp of reality? You deny doing something by doing the very thing you deny you’re doing. I love when somebody makes a value judgment and then tells me that he’s not doing what he’s doing. Kind of like Beck calling Obama a racist and then immediately afterword saying, “I’m not saying that he hates white people. And you are going to “assure me” about the presidents grasp of reality. You aren’t even aware of what you’re doing? How in touch is that? You attempt to separate your values from your beliefs, leaving yourself in a position of having to admit that you hold beliefs that you don’t value. Now you begin to make a value judgment on Obama’s grasp of reality, and you assure me that he is not a realist, and you do this by expressing your “belief” about Obama based on his words and actions. But since you don’t place any significance on your beliefs, no value, your beliefs are essentially worthless.

Now...You are going to assure Me that Obama is not a realist?? Even assuming you have a criteria or basis you think is adequate to make that determination, how did you determine that? Are you responsible for that judgment, or is the criteria responsible? Merely claiming a standard or a criteria or a basis does not help one to demonstrate the truth of values. It simply confirms your hypocrisy. If we claim a basis gives us truth, we then are making the implicit claim that truth requires bases. But then it is plainly obvious our own basis lacks a basis, as it cannot be its own basis. By claiming truth must be demonstrated by bases we undermine our own moral integrity. So...don’t go making some absolute statement on something you can’t possibly determine and attempt to “assure me that you must have it on some kind of authority which you clearly don’t have and cannot demonstrate, and expect me to find that a reasonable thing for me or anybody to accept. In other words....get real.


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